How Encouraging Failure at Work Increases Employee Engagement

Expecting that your employees will never fail can be demoralizing to the entire workforce and detrimental to the company culture. When employees believe that failing at work is not an option, they become burned out and their engagement crumbles.

For your workers to succeed, they need to feel free to experiment. Being willing to accept employees failing at work can boost workplace morale, increase employee engagement, and give a huge boost to creativity. 

As Stephen Baer, Chief Creative Officer at The Game Agency, explained in the latest Team Building Saves the World podcast:  

“At the end of the day, you don’t want someone to say: ‘Well, I got that wrong, too bad.’ You want someone to say ‘I got that wrong, but I think I could get it right if I try again.’”

Listen to the entire Keeping Employee Engagement Fun episode to hear more from Stephen Baer on the importance of gamification of employee training and how encouraging failure at work helps build a healthier company culture. 

Failure Is the Foundation of Success

It’s all too easy to look at an employee’s lack of immediate success solely in the short term. Mistakes can indeed be costly. They consume company resources, and without a direct return on investment, they can seem like unacceptable losses.

However, when looking at employee failure through a broader lens, individual failures take on a much less critical aspect. Instead of seeing mistakes as a detriment to the company, it’s much healthier to see them as stepping stones to success. 

On their mission to build the first motor-powered airplane, the Wright Brothers experienced countless setbacks. Even when they were confident that success was just around the corner, unforeseen failures brought them back to the drawing board. Rather than just throwing in the towel, they used each failure as an opportunity to learn and improve. 

Today’s world is no different. Businesses that make employees fear failure usually get overtaken by competitors who innovate by encouraging their employees to experiment and take risks.

The Benefits of Encouraging Failure in the Workplace

Employees who are afraid to fail are more likely to have a negative workplace experience, including excess stress, anxiety, and pressure. According to the American Psychological Association, work is the third most common source of stress for Americans, with 61% of respondents reporting feeling stressed due to work.

While not all work-related stress can be attributed to fear of failure, such unreasonable expectations play a significant role. Even worse, employees who feel anxious and over-stressed are also less likely to be creative or willing to contribute to the company’s success.

Allowing employees to fail helps spur the innovations that a company needs to succeed in this fast-paced world. To encourage employees to experiment and take risks, they must feel safe even if their experiments and risks don’t pay off as expected.

On top of that, when employees fail, they develop a deeper understanding of their job and discover new ways to make their role more impactful. They start to think more creatively, looking for solutions that are outside of the box. 

As Stephen Baer puts it: “When employees are allowed to fail, they try out stuff to see what works. And, hopefully, they get smarter and better in a safe zone.” 

Embracing Failure in the Workplace

The question you face as a leader is how to effectively embrace failure in the workplace. It can be challenging to walk the line between encouraging failure from experimentation and making the same mistakes repeatedly due to poor management. 

Here are some ways you can encourage employee experimentation.

Openly Talk About Failures

When it comes to failing at work, minimizing it or keeping it quiet sends the wrong message. Be willing to discuss mistakes with your team, and contextualize them within your successes. You can even celebrate your mistakes, encouraging workers to share their failures as a chance to move on to successes.

Avoid Pointing Fingers

Assigning blame sends the wrong message. While you can acknowledge failures, pointing fingers makes workers less likely to take risks since most people avoid looking foolish in front of their coworkers.

Focus on Continuous Learning

Talking about failures should always be about the positive aspects. When you focus on the lessons workers can learn from their mistakes, you help them build their future successes.

Tell Your Own Story

We all have stories of how we failed in the past. Be willing to share your failures with your team, and talk about how you built upon those failures and turned them into wins.

Conclusion

When employees feel free to experience failing at work, both your workforce and your company benefit. By encouraging employees to fail, you urge them to take risks that can potentially pay off big, much bigger than simply staying in the same safe routine, day after day.

You can help build a safe space for failure at your workplace with team building activities from TeamBonding. These programs allow your teams to work together and improve your company’s employee experience of failure in the pursuit of perfection.

Anna Webber

Team Contributor

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